In the world of spices, brand new products don’t come along very often. That’s why we at The Spice House were so excited when black garlic started gaining popularity around 2010.
Though there are some conflicting stories, most people agree that black garlic was invented between 2004 and 2009, based on a Korean technique for preserving garlic. Though it was originally billed as a health supplement, the delicious flavor of black garlic has made it popular as a gourmet ingredient around the world.
The flavor of black garlic is difficult to describe. It is much less pungent than raw garlic, and it has a sweet flavor similar to aged balsamic vinegar with notes of tamarind or raisins.
Because it is sweet and savory, black garlic is extremely versatile. It is delicious in mushroom and Swiss cheese omelets, or with five-spice in Chinese style Twice-Cooked Pork with Bean Curd Sheets. Personally, I like black garlic sliced on a fig and goat-cheese pizza, or in Mushroom and Black Garlic Risotto.
The Spice House carries black garlic from a small farm in Hillsboro, Wisconsin. This makes the black garlic one of only a small number of spice products grown in the Midwest. The first time I called Craig Dunek, owner of Wisconsin Fermentation Company, he was out unclogging the tap lines for his maple syrup production. I spoke with him recently and asked him some questions about his farm and what makes his black garlic so unique.
Adam: How long have you been a farmer? How did you become a farmer?
Craig: I officially became a farmer in 2008. I was lucky enough to grow up in the country. When I was a kid I loved to garden; actually, my Mother’s Day present to my mom has been to plant her garden as long as I can remember. All that gardening taught me how to grow just about anything under the sun. In the mid 90’s my dad decided he would have me tap some maple trees; that became the infancy of the commercial syrup operation I run today. I am lucky that my job is something that I have truly enjoyed since I was a kid.
Adam: What is the most rewarding part of your business?
Craig: The most rewarding part of the business is seeing the process from start to finish; from the soil to the customer’s hand.
Adam: What are some difficulties you face as a farmer?
Craig: There is always the struggle of getting bigger without the loss of quality. I have learned over time that slow and steady wins the race.
Adam: Besides black garlic, what other products are produced on your farm?
Craig: I have a commercial Maple Syrup operation. I produce maple syrup, maple cream, and maple sugar.
Adam: For how long have you been producing black garlic? Was it difficult to find a market for the black garlic? Who are your main customers?
Craig: We started making black garlic in 2012. Like any novel product, teaching the customer what black garlic is and what to do with it have been the biggest struggles. Once we got learning curve established the market for the product emerged. We sell direct to customers, wholesalers, retailers, and to industrial customers.
Adam: Do you have any interesting stories about the farm that you can share?
Craig: Wisconsin Fermentation Company and Black Garlic North America came to be during the “baby-moon” my wife and I had taken prior to the birth of our first child. During the vacation, I went to a farmers market and purchased fresh garlic- oddly enough all the years I had been gardening I have never grown garlic. So that fall I planted the garlic I had purchased, and the following year I harvested the most delicious garlic I have ever eaten. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to capitalize on something as great as garlic?” After researching garlic for weeks and all the commercial applications and products I finally discovered Black Garlic. It was not long after that time that black garlic was featured on Chopped and Sweet Genius. I went to work on building the prototype fermentation chambers and eight months later the business was started. I have said it many times: perhaps the guiding star for the business was my first daughter Stella.